Known as “Fat Tuesday” in many places, in Pa Dutch country and the Coal Region it is know as “Fasnacht Day” or “Donut Day” — it occurs on Shrove Tuesday, which begins the traditional 40-day period of fasting and prayer practiced by Christians prior to Easter (famously celebrated as Mardi Gras, the term for Fat Tuesday in French, in New Orleans.
The word Fastnacht originates from the German words “fast”, which is the shortened version of the verb “fasten”, which means “to fast”, and “nacht”, meaning night, indicating the eve of the traditional Lenten fasting.
In Pa. Dutch country, we celebrate by indulging in eating this deep-fried fasnacht (donut) for good luck and, traditionally, to clear the animal fat out of the pantry before Lent begins. Fasnachts are made using all remaining supplies of lard, sugar, fat or butter, which were not to be eaten during Lent.
Although every cook has their favorite — and often generations-old — recipe, fasnachts are often made using mashed potatoes. Some are round. Some are square. Some have holes in the middle. Some are yeast raised, others use baking powder as the leavening in the recipe. They can be plain, glazed, or covered in powdered sugar or cinnamon and sugar.
Throughout the Coal Region churches, fire companies, schools, scout troops and other organizations sell dozens of fasnachts as a fund-raising opportunity. Many organizations gather volunteers who make their own, often turning out hundreds or thousands of dozen which then get picked up or delivered to those who have placed advanced orders. Many times, these tasty treats will be sold out quickly, so if you have a favorite fasnacht source, always place a timely order!
Many local coal region bakeries sell tremendous numbers of donuts on Fasnacht Day directly to customers through their shops in addition to being the source for many groups who sell the donuts to raise funds but who do not make their own.
This version uses both mashed potatoes and yeast so it will require some rise and wait time when prepping. If you would like a version made with baking soda which works up faster, I suggest using my Crullers recipe from this site.
FasnachtsCourse: DessertsCuisine: Pa. Dutch Coal RegionDifficulty: Intermediate
1 pound russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 and 1/2 cups white sugar, plus more for coating
2 (1/4 ounce) envelopes active dry yeast
2 eggs, beaten
2/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
6 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
Vegetable oil, for frying
Powdered sugar or cinnamon sugar for dusting, if desired
- Place the potatoes in a medium saucepan, cover with cold water by 2 inches and season generously with salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until very tender.
- Drain potatoes RESERVING 1 and 1/2 cups of the potato cooking water. Drain and mash the potatoes until smooth (do not use milk, butter or other seasoning – just mash the cooked potato). Set the mashed potatoes aside and cool slightly.
- In a medium bowl, stir together the mashed potatoes, reserved potato cooking water, sugar and yeast. Cover with a towel and let the mixture sit for 20 minutes; it will look foamy.
- Using a sieve, strain the mixture into a large bowl, smoothing out any lumps. Stir in the eggs and melted butter.
- Stir 5 cups of the flour, 1 cup at a time, until a dough starts to form. Gently knead the remaining 1 cup of flour in until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and forms a large ball. Cover with a towel and put in a warm place to rise for 3 hours.
- Dust some flour onto a baking sheet.
- On a well-floured surface, roll out the dough to 1/2-inch thick.
Using a 3-inch cutter (or cut into 3 inch squares) cut out the donuts and set on the prepared baking sheet. Cover lightly with a towel, and let rise for 30 minutes.
- Line a baking sheet with a split brown paper bag or absorbent paper.
- In a deep fryer or Dutch oven, pour enough oil to fill no more than halfway up the side. Heat the oil to 365 degrees F.
- Place the donuts into the heated oil, two at a time. Cook until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side.
- Transfer the donuts to the lined baking sheet to absorb some of the oil.
- While warm, place the cooked donuts into a paper bag with a spoonful of powdered or cinnamon sugar and shake gently until the donuts are well coated. Coating is optional, you may leave some or all plain.